Relative Pitfalls

There was an awesome presentation today in sociology, where a student had to describe the development of societies. She presented it as an introduction in a basic linear chart: Hunter-gatherer, Pastoral, Agrarian, Industrial, Post Industrial. Afterwards, my professor raised the good point: Try to see the different societies as co-existing. They are not necessarily linear. She asked the class:

“What dangers does this sort of evolutionary thinking provide?”

Student hands shot up, and one by one they called out the dominant flaws:

“It can be oppressive , as if those other societies are “less” human than our society.”

“It assumes that the best way to go is Industrial, when it really isn’t necessarily so.”

“Marginalizes those who are in the lower “levels.”

All good points! Of course, I had to play devil’s advocate once again. I raised my hand and asked, “But what are the pitfalls of not at least including linear-development in a greater, very relative scheme?”

I continued, “It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t just dismiss the developmental aspect of societies. Yes it’s not completely linear, but it’s not to say it doesn’t exist. Maybe if we embraced a vertical and a horizontal thinking system we could understand it better, because it is complex.”

The class raised their hands again, repeating the same arguments as they did before.

I tried to clarify myself, throwing out the word “holons,” and described a few metaphors (Galaxies, solar systems, planets, increasing complexity). The most that I got out of it was that it was interesting that, “linear views in social sciences persist.”

Alas. This is just a ramble. An irritated ramble. It’s alright though, as frustrated grip fades, I’ll just end this with a passing but important point:

To hold relativism to an extreme is to undermine your own value. No one view is right, except for that view. Accept all cultures, beliefs, societies as equal, except for values that don’t agree. And I’ll leave that paradox for any readers to poke at.

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